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CAC slashes staff to cut costs

by Rand Green | July 16, 2009
The California Avocado Commission in Irvine, CA, which represents the state's 6,000 avocado growers, has announced staff reductions of nearly 40 percent.

Tom Bellamore, who was named president of the commission in June, told The Produce News, Tuesday, July 14, "Last Friday there was an announcement out to the industry from me that we have taken the first formal step in reorganizing the commission and restructuring, and part of that entailed a reduction in force."

It was a "major" cut, he said. "We went from 18 people down to 11."

Mr. Bellamore, who had been acting president of the commission since May 2008 and who previously was senior vice president and corporate counsel, declined to specify which individuals were let go. Apart from confirming that Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing, remains at the commission, he also declined to give the names of anyone who will still be part of "the team going forward."

"I don't really want to talk about specific individuals," either those that are gone or those that remain, Mr. Bellamore said, adding that to do so would sidestep "the main point of the reduction in force."

He did say that "true to our heritage, the marketing department remains relatively intact. But I can say that the reduction crossed all functional areas."

The layoffs were made strictly for economic reasons, to reduce the commission's operating expenses, he explained. "These are tough decisions. ... We had to take a hard look at the overall operating efficiencies of the commission with an eye to cutting costs as best as possible, and it wasn't just the short crop situation. It was really looking ahead and needing to position the commission for the future."

Having to lay off "people who have been part of the family for many years is a very tough thing to have done," he said.

According to an organizational chart on the commission's web site prior to the cuts, the commission was organized into three departments. Under Ms. DeLyser were five individuals; under Guy Witney, director of industry affairs, were four individuals; and under Val Weaver, vice president of finance and administration, were five individuals.

Mr. Witney told The Produce News in a telephone interview July 14 that he was among those no longer employed at the commission. He said that a letter sent out to growers from the commission "basically said, 'This is the team,' and it excluded myself."

Also not named in the letter as part of the team going forward were two individuals who were part of the industry affairs department: Betty Bohrk, "who was a 38-year veteran of the commissions, and Wayne Brydon, who was my assistant, who did the crop estimating and projections," said Mr. Witney, who had been with the commission for eight years.

"I have been in public service for 21 years," working previously for the citrus industry and the apple industry, Mr. Witney said. "I am certainly looking around" to see what opportunities may be available. "I am hoping that I can find something in the avocado industry. If not, then certainly there are opportunities with the University of California and other fruit industries."